Synopses & Reviews
Born on the island of Saint-Domingue, Zarité—known as Tété—is the daughter of an African mother she never knew and one of the white sailors who brought her into bondage. Though her childhood is one of brutality and fear, Tété finds solace in the traditional rhythms of African drums and the voodoo loa she discovers through her fellow slaves.
When twenty-year-old Toulouse Valmorain arrives on the island in 1770, its with powdered wigs in his trunks and dreams of financial success in his mind. But running his fathers plantation, Saint Lazare, is neither glamorous nor easy. Although Valmorain purchases young Tété for his bride, it is he who will become dependent on the services of his teenaged slave.
Against the merciless backdrop of sugarcane fields, the lives of Tété and Valmorain grow ever more intertwined. When the bloody revolution of Toussaint Louverture arrives at the gates of Saint Lazare, they flee the brutal conditions of the French colony, soon to become Haiti, for the raucous, free-wheeling enterprise of New Orleans. There Tété finally forges a new life, but her connection to Valmorain is deeper than anyone knows and not easily severed. With an impressive richness of detail, and a narrative wit and brio second to none, Allende crafts the riveting story of one womans determination to find love amid loss, to offer humanity though her own has been so battered, and to forge a new identity in the cruelest of circumstances.
"[Signature]Reviewed by Marlon James. Of the many pitfalls lurking for the historical novel, the most dangerous is history itself. The best writers either warp it for selfish purposes (Gore Vidal), dig for the untold, interior history (Toni Morrison), or both (Jeannette Winterson). Allende, four years after Ines of My Soul, returns with another historical novel, one that soaks up so much past life that there is nowhere left to go but where countless have been. Opening in Saint Domingue a few years before the Haitian revolution would tear it apart, the story has at its center Zarit, a mulatto whose extraordinary life takes her from that blood-soaked island to dangerous and freewheeling New Orleans; from rural slave life to urban Creole life and a different kind of cruelty and adventure. Yet even in the new city, Zarit can't quite free herself from the island, and the people alive and dead that have followed her. Zarit's passages are striking. More than merely lyrical, they map around rhythms and spirits, making her as much conduit as storyteller. One wishes there was more of her because, unlike Allende, Zarit is under no mission to show us how much she knows. Every instance, a brush with a faith healer, for example, is an opportunity for Allende to showcase what she has learned about voodoo, medicine, European and Caribbean history, Napoleon, the Jamaican slave Boukman, and the legendary Mackandal, a runaway slave and master of black magic who has appeared in several novels including Alejo Carpentier's Kingdom of This World. The effect of such display of research is a novel that is as inert as a history textbook, much like, oddly enough John Updike's Terrorist, a novel that revealed an author who studied a voluminous amount of facts without learning a single truth. Slavery as a subject in fiction is still a high-wire act, but one expects more from Allende. Too often she forgoes the restraint and empathy essential for such a topic and plunges into a heavy breathing prose reminiscent of the Falconhurst novels of the 1970s, but without the guilty pleasure of sexual taboo. Sex, overwritten and undercooked, is where 'opulent hips slithered like a knowing snake until she impaled herself upon his rock-hard member with a deep sigh of joy.' Even the references to African spirituality seem skin-deep and perfunctory, revealing yet another writer too entranced by the myth of black cultural primitivism to see the brainpower behind it. With Ines of My Soul one had the sense that the author was trying to structure a story around facts, dates, incidents, and real people. Here it is the reverse, resulting in a book one second-guesses at every turn. Of course there will be a forbidden love. Betrayal. Incest. Heartbreak. Insanity. Violence. And in the end the island in the novel's title remains legend. Fittingly so, because to reach the Island Beneath the Sea, one would have had to dive deep. Allende barely skims the surface." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"An entrancing and astute storyteller....In a many-faceted plot, Allende animates irresistible characters authentic in their emotional turmoil and pragmatic adaptability...while masterfully dramatizing the psychic wounds of slavery." Booklist (starred review)
"A rich gumbo of melodrama, romance and violence." Kirkus Reviews
"Since the 1985 publication of her fiercely imagined first novel, The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende's ability to invent a wide variety of characters, tie them to a historical narrative as factual as a college text and set them in grandiose geographical settings without breaking a sweat -- at least not on the page -- has made her one of the most popular novelists of our time. Her epics always involve women of extraordinary resiliency, and this 10th novel is no exception. It is multigenerational, beginning in 1770 and following Toulouse Valmorain and his slave Tete from a place 'the original inhabitants, the Arawaks, had called Haiti before the conquistadors changed the name to La Espanola,' to Cuba, then to New Orleans, where Tete is finally set free to raise her grandchild." Helena Maria Viramontes, Ms. Magazine (read the entire Ms. Magazine review)
Born a slave on the island of Saint-Domingue, Zarité — known as Tété — is the daughter of an African mother she never knew and one of the white sailors who brought her into bondage. Though her childhood is one of brutality and fear, Tété finds solace in the traditional rhythms of African drums and in the voodoo loas she discovers through her fellow slaves.
When twenty-year-old Toulouse Valmorain arrives on the island in 1770, it's with powdered wigs in his baggage and dreams of financial success in his mind. But running his father's plantation, Saint Lazare, is neither glamorous nor easy. It will be eight years before he brings home a bride — but marriage, too, proves more difficult than he imagined. And Valmorain remains dependent on the services of his teenaged slave.
Spanning four decades, Island Beneath the Sea is the moving story of the intertwined lives of Tété and Valmorain, and of one woman's determination to find love amid loss, to offer humanity though her own has been battered, and to forge her own identity in the cruellest of circumstances.
From the sugar plantations of Saint-Domingue to the lavish parlors of New Orleans at the turn of the 19th century, Allende's latest novel introduces yet another unforgettable woman — a slave and concubine determined to claim her own destiny against impossible odds.
“Allende is a master storyteller at the peak of her powers.”
— Los Angeles Times
From the sugar plantations of Saint-Domingue to the lavish parlors of New Orleans at the turn of the 19th century, the latest novel from New York Times bestselling author Isabel Allende (Inés of My Soul, The House of the Spirits, Portrait in Sepia) tells the story of a mulatta woman, a slave and concubine, determined to take control of her own destiny.
About the Author
Born in Peru and raised in Chile, Isabel Allende is the author of eight novels, including, most recently, Zorro, Portrait in Sepia, and Daughter of Fortune. She has also written a collection of stories; three memoirs, including My Invented Country and Paula; and a trilogy of children's novels. Her books have been translated into more than twenty-seven languages and have become bestsellers across four continents. In 2004 she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Isabel Allende lives in California.